Sholpan Aytenova is an expert in public policy and monitoring, state finance, the promotion of international initiatives, and good standards of governance.
The Soros Foundation-Kazakhstan is one of the oldest charitable foundations in the country, a little younger than our independence. It is no exaggeration to say that its activities have contributed to the development of civil society in Kazakhstan. Its strategy and direction have always met the requirements of the times and contributed to the development of our country in various fi elds, from culture and human rights, to health care and the development of free media.
The Foundation itself has also changed over time. We can observe a development trajectory from quantitative to qualitative types of projects: from mass training projects, such as the Debate Center and the House of Volunteers, to segmented ones aimed at providing support for networks and coalitions.
Over the years many projects have been implemented in the regions. The Foundation’s work has reached villages and towns, going beyond Almaty and the capital. The Foundation has reacted fl exibly to changes in the public agenda and continues to do so, fi nding relevant areas of focus in its strategy. Of course, a number of challenges remain. In my opinion, these include the institutionalization and sustainability of projects. Unfortunately, this is a problem not only for the Foundation but also for the entire public sector.
The civil sector has yet to solve important challenges: ensuring that organizations and initiatives are viable, independent and able to diversify sources of funding; having a constructive impact on processes; adjusting to change and keeping up to date; mastering technology; and introducing innovations.
The Foundation has a long history and numerous impressive achievements. It is worth remembering such projects as the House of Volunteers, which was launched in 1998 when volunteering was not yet prevalent. Another example is the National Debate Center, which has trained thousands of debaters. The public hearing project on the cleaning of Komsomolsky Lake in Taraz, implemented by the Taraz Initiative Center NGO in 2004, resulted in funds eventually being allocated from the budget and the lake and the coastal strip fully becoming a part of the urban space. Another project, which was conducted by the NGO Angel from Atbasar, involved monitoring a drinking-water program. Among the most recent highlights are the Training Café, projects on palliative care, the development of urban initiatives and local self-government, the creation of a database of media recipients of state information orders, and travel grants for specialists of various sectors.
What distinguishes the Foundation is the transparency of its activities. There is no other foundation that publishes so much information about its grants and projects. The rotation of those in charge at the Foundation is impressive. I know funds where directors have not changed for more than ten years. The Foundation’s current system of checks and balances is enforced by the board of trustees, which is changed regularly and includes well-known public fi gures. Few people know that in the past Marat Tazhin, Nurlan Yerimbetov, Yevgeny Zhovtis, and Aida Dossaeva were members of the board of trustees. Such expertise enhances the credibility of the fund as there is confi dence that decisions are being made impartially and objectively.
I have had considerable experience over 15 years of working with the Foundation. It was always a collaborative effort to increase transparency and accountability in public fi nance, even though the topic was only recently included on the agenda of the state and other donors. All these years, in cooperation with the Foundation, we have implemented projects to analyze and raise awareness of the budget, and to promote legislation and initiatives to increase budget transparency. Graduates of the Open Budget Fellowship project have become well-established specialists with a knowledge of the budget process and contribute to the development of professional dialogue with the state. That is precisely how in 2018-2019, in cooperation with the Foundation, we implemented one of the most important projects, the Open Budget Fellowship. The project was an enormous success, despite its rather short time frame of two years.
The Open Budget Fellowship covered all stages of the budget process and provided an opportunity for civil society to participate in the budget. For the project each participant was invited to conduct his/her own mini research project on the budget. As a result, participants in the Open Budget Fellowship, earlier than the state bodies themselves, identifi ed emerging problems in such areas of budgeting as lightweight rail transport, the public fi nancing of research, and public transport
Graduates of the Open Budget Fellowship project have become well-established specialists with a knowledge of the budget process and contribute to the development of professional dialogue with the state.